Undoubtedly one of the main attractions in the area, and one of the reasons so many people flock to Siem Reap is the Angkor Archaeological Park. This UNESCO World Heritage site is on the ‘must see’ list for most travel guides. Foremost amongst its more than 1,000 temples is the great Angkor Wat itself.
Nita by Vo is the closest 5-star hotel to Angkor. In fact you can see the central tower of the Wat from our rooftop!
One can spend many days visiting the temples. However, most people just wish to see the highlights, and we would suggest you should see three.
Of course, you should visit Angkor Wat. Consecrated around 1150 by King Suryvarman II, it was built as a Hindu temple, and subsequently converted to a Buddhist one. It was ‘re-discovered’ in the mid 19th century by Henri Mouhot, although it had never been lost to locals. According to Mouhot, “One of these temples—a rival to that of Solomon, and erected by some ancient Michelangelo—might take an honourable place beside our most beautiful buildings. It is grander than anything left to us by Greece or Rome, and presents a sad contrast to the state of barbarism in which the nation is now plunged.”
The temple is frequently visited at sunrise or sunset, and the iconic photos of the central vihear reflecting in the pools outside make wonderful postcards. One should also make a point of seeing the bas reliefs, which stretch for more than 500m around the central enclosure. You can see carvings of kings and battles. The legend of the ‘churning of the sea of milk’ and a depiction of the 32 hells and 37 heavens of Hindu mythology. If you take a good registered tour guide with you, they will make sure you see all the best features. Nita by Vo can organise such a guide for you.
The second temple we recommend is Bayon. This is the central temple in the great ancient city of Angkor Thom. You enter the city through the fabled South Gate, flanked by gods and demons and overlooked by the four-headed gate statue. When you get to the centre of the city, Bayon greets you with majesty and beauty.Built in the late 12th century, it is the official state temple of the great King Jayavarman VII and the last major temple to be built in Angkor. You can marvel and the 216 faces of the King himself which adorn the 54 towers looming above you. A trip to the top of the temple gives a view of the inner sanctum, where frequently you can receive a blessing and a ‘lucky’ piece of red string to adorn your wrist.
Finally on our recommended tour, we suggest Ta Prohm. Built at roughly the same time as Bayon, this temple has been reclaimed by the jungle. Huge Spung trees and Strangler Figs rise from the very walls of the temple itself. In fact it’s not clear if the trees are threatening to pull the walls down or their roots are actually holding them up.
This temple was brought to the public eye by Angelina Jolie in the film ‘Tomb Raiders’, which was part filmed there. You can stand by the very doorway where Angelina appeared and have your own photo taken.
To highlight three temples is to omit so many worthy of a visit. But if you only have a short time to spend in the area, then these are on the must see list.
Additional days can be arranged if required. We would suggest:
– The Grand Circuit – Preah Khan, Neak Pean, Ta Som, East Mebon, Pre Rup, Srah Srang, Banteay Kdei and Prasat Kravan
– The Roulos Group – Bakong, Lolie, Preah Ko
– Banteay Srey and the surrounding area
– Kbal Spean
– Kulen Mountains